Alan Mathison Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1951. (Photo courtesy of www.ieee.org)
Alan Turing figured out how to crack the German enciphering device known as the Enigma. This achievement gave the Allies an incalculable advantage in World War Two. In order to accomplish this monumental task, Alan Turing had to invent a fantastic machine which had never existed before. Today we call that machine the computer.
In 1974 the British government authorized the publication of a book simply titled, The Ultra Secret. What the book revealed was so shocking, so incredible, so unimaginable it changed everything we knew about the Second World War. It’s revelations continue to reverberate through the history and to-be-revised history of World War Two. And what The Ultra Secret revealed was this: during World War Two the British, and later the Americans, read almost 90% of all top secret German radio traffic – and the Germans used radio as their primary method of communication.
Because of gay activists in London we also learned something else: the key player in the Ultra Secret was a gay man named Alan Turing. And this is how it helped us: “During the great campaigns on land or in desperate phases of the war at sea, exact and utterly reliable information could thus be conveyed, regularly and often instantly, mint-fresh, to the Allied commanders.” wrote historian Ronald Lewin in Ultra Goes To War.
Often we decrypted Ultra messages as fast as the Germans did. And what did we learn? Almost everything: battle plans, dates of attack, the position of every ship, plane, U-Boat, soldier – we knew almost all. And we knew it all because of a homosexual named Alan Turing.
To prevent anyone from understanding the secret information they were broadcasting, the German armed forces used a coding machine so complex the British called it the Enigma. It was unbreakable. Completely and totally secure. Only it wasn’t. Why? Because in one of his many flashes of genius, mathematician Alan Turing, who was working for the British military, figured out how to crack messages coded by the Enigma.
There was a small hitch. In order to perform the actions required to crack the Enigma, Turing had to invent a machine of some sort – a machine which had never existed before. The Oxford Companion to World War Two gives this bland explanation: “Turing, Alan (1912-1954). British mathematician whose theories and work … resulted in the modern computer.”
The Association of Computer Manufacturers, ACM, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society for the learned members of this profession. The highest accolade a computer scientist can receive is the Turing Prize from this association. The following information on the Turing Prize is taken from their website: http://awards.acm.org/
“The A.M. Turing Award, the ACM’s most prestigious technical award, is given for major contributions of lasting importance to computing. Recipients are invited to give the annual A.M. Turing Award Lecture. The award is also accompanied by a cash prize of $250,000…The A.M. Turing Award, sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize” of Computing, was named in honor of Alan Mathison Turing (1912–1954), a British mathematician and computer scientist. He made fundamental advances in computer architecture, algorithms, formalization of computing, and artificial intelligence. Turing was also instrumental in British code-breaking work during World War II.”
Somehow gay people are left out when the ‘Greatest Generation’ is honored. Let all of us straight, gay and in between, insist, beginning from this very moment, that whenever the ‘Greatest Generation’ is remembered, we remember Alan Turing, the greatest of them all.
Reaction and comments from senior officials of the British Government, computer industry leaders and scholars who study the life of Alan Turing can be found at the link below along with information on how to buy the DVD of CODEBREAKER, a truly outstanding documentary about Turing’s discoveries produced by Washington, DC, gay activist and film maker, Patrick Sammon. I have seen the documentary several times and I can tell you that not only is it worth watching. As a gay man, I found it deeply painful to watch and learn the details of what was done to one of the greatest scientists of the modern era.
Article from DailyKos is here: www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/23/1265014/-Alan-Turning-Finally-Pardoned
Article from BBC is here: www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25495315
More detailed info on Alan Turing in my blog post here: http://charlesmccain.com/tag/alan-turing/
Thank to Gary B. and Tad for bringing this to my attention.